Born to a Jewish mother and raised in a rather conservative Jewish family, being “Jewish” has always been my identity as far as the answer to the question “What is your religion?” is concerned.
After having gone through Jewish school in my childhood, and voluntarily studied Talmudic Law and Ethics as a young adult, I happened to realize that Judaism might not always have the answer I wanted to hear for my questions, but at least no questions were left unanswered. (And if I may add, my people do like to be questioned!)
Again, when questioned about my religion, my answer has always been the same since ever: “I’m Jewish.” (A statement I’m always proud to say, by the way.)
On the other hand, when asked “Are you religious?”, I must say the answer needs to be seen from a point-in-time perspective, for it has changed over time.
Before I continue on the topic ‘religion’, I would like to bring something up: I recently ran into a very trivial but revealing question about my understanding of religion. When researching about the origin of the word ‘religion’, I found out that the word comes from Latin ‘re-ligare’, which means ‘to bind’, word that later gave origin to another Latin word ‘religio’, which means ‘bond’. Thus, the morphological word formation ‘religion’ semantically refers to the bond, which binds man to his source. And there couldn’t be a simpler and more straight-forward definition of religion to align with my views than this one.
Now to answer the question “Are you religious?”: As of today, after having matured my understanding about religions in general and more specifically about Judaism, my answer is: “Yes, I am religious. But I am not observant!” In other words: I do accept my identity as a Jewish man. I do accept my heritage of being a direct descendant and part of the Hebrew nation. I do accept the Torah. And most and above all, I do accept my G-d. (And just so it is clear, I do believe in both the Genesis and in the scientific theory of evolution. One does not nullify the other. Topic for another discussion, though.)
Well, I do. I do. I do. I do. And it all makes me a religious Jew because these beliefs define my bond. They bind me to Judaism. They bind me to my origins. However, the fact that I choose not to follow every single man-made interpretation of the Torah makes me a non-observant Jew. In short: I am a non-observant Jewish man who feels connected to his origins.
Now if I were challenged to accept all the rules stated in the Torah as a pre-condition to be credible when I say I’m connected to my origins, I tend to compare with something very simple. Let’s take the fact that I was born in Brazil. Being Brazilian constitutes another of my identities (like being Jewish).
I do not agree with the all the social manners of Brazilians. I do not align with all the cultural practices of Brazilians. I do not accept all of the laws in practice in Brazil and reinforced by the Brazilian society in general. I do not practice all customs of the Brazilian people. I do not observe all Brazilian holidays. Etc. Etc. Etc. And despite all of this: I am Brazilian. Yet, I am a non-observant Brazilian man who feels connected to his origins.
Now I ask myself, if I believe in the guidelines that bind me to my origins but I do not observe these very same guidelines, am I bound to my G-d at all? Or am I disconnected?
To answer this, I must state my greatest criticism on the philosophy of virtually every religion: the fear of G-d, the backbone of religious belief. In my opinion, it is highly paradoxical to bind G-d, or whatever one calls it, to fear. There’s nothing G-dly in fear. Fear, in fact, is a human feeling and cannot even be described in the context of goodness, which defines G-d.
To go further, I see G-d as pure perfection, like the whole of the universe He created. And we have G-d in our lives for one reason only: to have a model to look up to – a model of goodness and perfection. His role model has been given and we have the free will to decide whether to follow it or not. As said, the world created by G-d is good and perfect in its entirety. We, as single beings, are only part of this whole. Our role in this life is to pursue leading a life filled with goodness. Thus, leading a life dictated by the fear of G-d goes against the principles of goodness and the perfection that defines G-d’s creation in the first place, including us!
So am I connected to my source? Am I bound to my G-d at all despite the fact I do not observe all the rules dictated by my religion? Yes, I am.
In fact, the more I learn about beauty of men and of the world, the more I believe in G-d.
At the same time, the more I learn about religions, the farther away I get from pursuing an observant life.
I cannot erase from my life the fact that I am Brazilian. My place of birth will be the same till the day I die. Likewise, I cannot erase from my life the fact that I am Jewish. My ethnic origin will be the same till the day I die.
So well… am I religious? – Oh yeeeeah! I am one proud religious Jewish man! J
And I believe hard enough that my G-d loves the religious guy I am. As long as goodness is what brings joy to my life, I’m sure I’m walking the path of His will.
Oh well, what about the ‘bacon’ thing in the post title? Well, the comment on that is a reaffirmation of the essence of my text.
Everyone knows Jews do not eat bacon. Neither do I. I do not eat bacon nor pork. And this is so for the same reason why people in the western world do not eat cats and dogs – the culture has taught them to do so. The culture in China in the east, on the other hand, tells them otherwise.
So yeah, the same principle applies to me. I was brought up in a Jewish home where pork is not an animal one eats – as simple as that. And this is why I do not eat bacon nor pork today – for my culture has taught me to do so.